"If she was really an atheist, she would not care. What difference would a Christian burial make if God does not exit? The point is that she was an anti-theists, not an atheist. It is not that she didn't believe in God. It is that she hated God." -- BBBR Resistance Fighter
Madelyn Murray O'Hair was during her life, and remains after her death, a hero to me. The attacks on her grieve me, especially coming during this period, after the fact of her murder and dismemberment (and that of her son and granddaughter) are no longer dark suspicions, but confirmed facts.
I am also an atheist, so I feel that I might be able to answer this question of respecting the wishes of the dead regarding the disposition of their bodies, and any ceremony which might accompany that event.
When I was a Christian (I was baptized into the Disciples of Christ, The Christian Church, when I was eight years old), it meant a great deal to me that my funeral reflect my beliefs while alive. Much in the same way that those we loved are called to speak at our services about what kind of person the deceased was, funerals not only honor the dead, but also the principles for which a life lived actually stood as a testament.
Now that I am an atheist (I did not become an atheist during any formal ceremony, but rather grew into that belief system over a period of many years of study and self-reflection), it means a great deal to me that my funeral and the final disposition of my body reflect those beliefs for which I stood while alive. I would hope that my family would respect my wishes.
As for hating god, as Madelyn and I are accused of doing, nothing could be further from the truth. We neither hate nor fear any god. It is impossible to hate someone or something in which you have no belief. It is possible, however, to hate and fear the acts of those in whom you have belief certain.
When I hear stories of religious atrocities, I must admit, I hate the people who visit these horrors upon their fellow man. But I do not blame any god. I blame the people responsible. I also admit to hatred for those whose ingratitude extends to Madelyn Murray O'Hair. Why is she hated? Because she is responsible for the ban on prayer and Bible-reading in public schools? In public schools, prayer and Bible-reading remain legal, so long as they are not chosen, instituted, sanctioned, or paid for by the government.
"In the 1960s, O'Hair took part in successful court battles to ban prayer and Bible-reading in the nation's public schools."-- Associated Press March 16, 2001
This is a lie -- a filthy lie -- and an attack on a murdered woman who cannot defend herself from the grave. Though I am in no way worthy (I have never risked what she risked), I will speak in her defense. She obviously needs a champion, though by all rights, she should have millions already.
The reason Madelyn is a hero of mine, and will be until the day I die, is that she held America to The Dream. She loved America enough to believe that her Constitution, the foundation of The Dream, would be honored. She loved America enough to demand that she fulfill her promise to The People, that the government "would make no law regarding the establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
Many arguments have been written about the meaning of the religion clauses of the First Amendment. I will not revisit them here. I will say, however, that Madelyn was not the only person involved in the lawsuit regarding "prayer in the schools," for which she is so well-known. In fact, Madelyn's case (Murray v. Curlett), which came before the Supreme Court first, is not even the case the Supreme Court chose to hear and ultimately decided. Her case was passed over in favor of Abington Township School District v. Schempp, which was brought by another concerned parent.
Edward Schempp was a Unitarian, and a father. His son, Ellory, was not allowed to be excused during Bible-reading, and was subject to disciplinary action for his refusal to stand at attention during the recitation of the Lord's Prayer. Ellory attended public school in Pennsylvania, one of only five states that mandated Bible-reading in public school at that time (1958):
"At least ten verses from the Holy Bible shall be read, or caused to be read, without comment, at the opening of each public school on each school day, by the teacher in charge . . . If any teacher, whose duty it shall be to read the Holy Bible, or cause it to be read, shall fail or omit so to do, said school teacher shall, upon charges preferred for each failure or omission, and proof of the same, before the board of school directors of the school district, be discharged."
Edward, like Madelyn, believed it was wrong and unconstitutional to require young people to submit to religious exercises in the public schools. Edward, however, whose name is on the decision extending freedom of religion to public school students, was never "The Most Hated Man in America."NEXT: DEFENDING MADELYN, AND MYSELF
Why not? Because Mr. Schempp was a Unitarian. Madelyn wasn't. She was, like me, an atheist, and a proud one. And because of this, and only this, because of what she believed, she lived and died "The Most Hated Woman in America." Why? Because America is a nation of bigots.